For two years, Robert Burale was the perfect gentleman and the accomplished television reporter. He looked good. He had a girlfriend he treated with love and respect and showered with money and gifts.
But beneath the veneer of perfection he hid a deep, dark secret: he suffered from sexual addiction.
According to John Maina, a psychologist at Maranatha College of Professional Studies, sexual addiction manifests in different ways.
“It may range from obsessive watching of pornography and excessive masturbation to obsessive visits to strip clubs and brothels.”
“Addiction to sex begins with a few sexually oriented acts and leads to distorted thinking as the addict tries to rationalise and justify his addiction.”
An addiction will be diagnosed as such when it begins to impact on one’s social, financial or career life.
Robert successfully managed to keep his addiction under wraps for the most part of his relationship, but in late 2005, the cat jumped out of the bag.
“I began to have financial difficulties and get into debt. My prospective in-laws found out that I’d borrowed a huge chunk of money and they told my then girlfriend,” he says.
At first, she vowed to stand by him, but as Robert got into more debt in order to sustain his flashy lifestyle and addiction, she started to get suspicious.
“I had reached a point where I no longer had as much money as I used to. My girlfriend wondered what was going wrong, but I convinced her that I was just saving for a big investment plan.”
Unknown to his girlfriend, Robert’s income was going towards settling debts and paying bills at his favourite strip joint in Langata. His addiction was such that he could spend as much as Sh100 000 in one night in such clubs.
The relationship deteriorated when rumours began to spread about his visiting these clubs. His girlfriend did not take the rumours lightly; she began to keep tabs on his evening activities and it did not take long before he was nabbed.
“I suspect that someone might have seen me and my boys stroll into the club and called her. She caught me red-handed stacking money onto a stripper,” Robert says.
Although in the next few weeks he attempted to plead his innocence and salvage his relationship, his goose was already cooked.
“She just couldn’t take it and opted to leave,” says the former host of the popular TV travel reality show Kenya My Land.
Not many women would stomach their man being a sex addict, so her decision was understandable. In any case, Robert’s addiction was too far gone at this point.
“I was in my fifth year of addiction, having started out in the United Kingdom while studying for my degree in business management at Demontfort University,” he admits.
The addiction was fuelled in part by his peers and the attention his affluence accorded him.
“At first, I wanted to fit in. My boys were doing it and I did not want to be left out. Moreover, African men seemed to be in demand, which boosted our egos,” Robert says, adding that although he felt messed up and wanted to stop, he always found himself going back to the strip clubs.
When treating a sex addict, the treatment and recovery is never easy. Usually, the treatment takes time and hard work, particularly in the first year. In most cases, the recovery begins with the addict’s acceptance that he has a problem.
“Recovery is usually induced by the consequences, for instance, the loss of a job, a divorce, or a health problem,” John says.
For Robert, it was debt that spurred his change.
“At times, while still a TV show host, I would sleep hungry because I had no money to get supper. My mother found this difficult to comprehend when she found out.”
In 2008, he became a born-again Christian and began his recovery at an evening class that was hosted by a church in Ngong.
Robert admits that he often wondered if he could ever be whole again: “Some people in the congregation said that I’d only changed because of my debt and that once I got on my feet again, I would relapse. I felt like I had too much baggage on my shoulders.”
But perhaps what scared the man who is now a pastor at the Faith Chapel in Nairobi most was wondering whether any woman could ever accept him and his murky past.
In any case, she would have to confront her family’s and friends’ reactions as Robert’s fiancée, Rozinah Mwakideu, told Saturday Magazine.
“When I began to date Robert, my family and some of my friends were genuinely concerned, yet I desperately wanted them to receive the man I loved. There were those who feared that he would go back to the addiction while others quipped that ‘once a thief always a thief’. But as they came to know the new, changed Robert, their fears gradually fizzled out.”
She adds that she was also concerned about how her son would react upon meeting Robert.
Before Robert proposed a relationship, Rozinah remembers that he hinted at something about his past: “He casually told me that he’d met my brother, who was a radio presenter, but did not expound on what the meeting was all about. When I asked my brother, he admitted to having interviewed Robert but, interestingly, did not give me the details. Now I know the interview was about his past addiction.”
She confesses that she might have reacted differently had her brother told her about Robert’s addiction.
Making a move
According to John, walking out on your man once you find out that he is a sex addict may not always be the best option: “Sexual addiction is a treatable ailment. But your man may not always open up out of fear that you may reject him.”
Robert attests to this. “I shied away from disclosing my past because I was not sure how she would react. I worried that once she found out, she would turn me down. But once I felt that it was time to confront my past and propose a relationship, I did not hold back.”
This proved to be the best move.
“I was impressed that a man would come out and tell the woman he wants about a past that many would consider scandalous,” Rozinah says.
“It made me see that he was not seeking a casual union but a serious, committed relationship. It made me respect and trust him.”
Robert and Rozinah make it a point to talk a lot about their pasts. Robert adds that Rozinah encourages him to speak about it.
“From my experience, I know that it is possible for a sex addict or any other addict to overcome his addiction. Personally, I’m proud that since 2008, I have maintained a clean slate,” he says with a smile.